Manila, Philippines, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop of Cotabato Orlando B. Quevedo has denied media reports of a “divided hierarchy” and accusations that Philippines bishops from the nation’s major southern island of Mindanao have “saved” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by influencing the bishops’ response to a massive corruption scandal.
President Arroyo and certain cabinet members have faced allegations of corruption in a now-canceled program to build a national broadband network.
At an emergency meeting on February 26, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) addressed the corruption scandal with a general call for reform of the government and society. The statement lacked a specific condemnation of President Arroyo, which would have increased pressure for her to resign.
In a statement to be published by The Mindanao Cross, Archbishop Quevedo said the report of a split within the bishops’ conference was “absolutely false.” According to the archbishop, of the more than fifty archbishops and bishops voting at the February 26 meeting, a plurality came from Luzon, less than twenty came from Mindanao, and a few also came from the Visayas.
“From the numbers alone one can readily see how evidently false it would be for anyone to claim that the Mindanao bishops ‘saved’ [President Arroyo],” Archbishop Quevedo said.
The archbishop said, “in fact, the bishops’ statement was approved unanimously,” continuing, “even the handful known to favor Gloria’s resignation approved the statement.” He said of the 100 acting voting members of the CBCP, less than ten favored the resignation of the president. “Such numbers do not make a divided CBCP,” Archbishop Quevedo said.
He said the reports of a divided hierarchy “could be a media creation.”
Archbishop Quevedo listed various speculations aired about why the CBCP did not call for the president’s resignation: “they are blind and cannot see reality; they do not listen to the people and especially to the poor; many of them have received money from the President; they have no spine and all of the above.”
The archbishop said these charges were not true. He said that bishops visit people in the barrios and listen to them. These people, he said, “have problems quite different from those in Manila” and are not as much affected by the national media and various groups. The archbishop defended the bishop conference’s call for top-to-bottom reform from leaders of all governmental branches. Archbishop Quevedo said anti-corruption efforts would be aided by the recent abolition of an executive order some considered a “gag rule” hindering government investigations. The bishops supported the order’s abolition in their February 26 statement.
Archbishop Quevedo said the call for prayer was the most important recommendation in the bishops’ statement. Prayer circles, parish action, discernment, religious orders and organizations, and higher education represent “people power at and from the grassroots.”
Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - Democrat presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama in a speech before a Hocking College crowd on Sunday claimed that the Sermon on the Mount justifies his support for legal recognition of same-sex unions, Cybercast News Service reports.
Obama’s speech drew perplexed responses from commentators who did not see the connection.
"I don't think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state," said Obama. "If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans."
The Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, includes the Beatitudes, an endorsement of scriptural moral commandments, and condemnations of murder, divorce, and adultery. The passage in Romans (1:27) referred to by Obama condemns those who have rejected their creation in God’s image by their actions, among the acts mentioned is homosexual sex.
Kiera McCaffrey director of communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, responded to Obama’s remarks on same-sex unions.
"It seems pretty bogus using (the Bible) to justify civil unions," McCaffrey told Cybercast News Service. "He should be using secular reasons to back it up.
"He can search the whole Bible and not find anything that justifies gay marriage or same-sex unions," she said.
Other religious leaders were also puzzled by Obama’s connection of the Sermon on the Mount and same-sex unions.
"If he's finding support for same-sex marriage from the Sermon on the Mount, he's reading a different Bible than I've ever read," Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy with Focus on the Family, told Cybercast News Service.
Reverend Jesse Peterson, founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, told Cybercast News Service that he too saw no connection between the cited passages and Obama’s platform.
"When I first heard Obama comment on the Sermon on the Mount and homosexuality I couldn't grasp any relationship between the two," Peterson said.
"There is no correlation at all. The Sermon on the Mount is for the saints, and it explains their suffering and their reward as a result of suffering for what is right for Christ's sake. It doesn't give blessings or approval to homosexual unions," he said.
"I think maybe Senator Obama came up with the wrong passage," Peterson said. "Unless he is just trying to deceive the people. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he could be so desperate to win he'll just say anything."
Obama recently published a letter on his campaign website promising that he would use the presidency as a “bully pulpit” for homosexual causes.
Vatican City, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - The Vatican plans to erect a statue of the 16th century scientist Galileo in the Vatican gardens, the Times reports.
The statue will stand near the apartment in which the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was incarcerated while awaiting trial in 1633. He was charged with advocating heliocentrism, the theory of Copernicus that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Though he was not tortured or executed, as some believe, he was forced to recant by the Roman Inquisition.
Nicola Cabibbo, a nuclear physicist who heads the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, explained the motive for the statue. “The Church wants to close the Galileo affair and reach a definitive understanding not only of his great legacy but also of the relationship between science and faith,” he said.
Professor Cabibbo said that the statue was appropriate because Galileo had been one of the founders of the Lincei Academy, a forerunner of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in 1603.
The statue installation, which is being privately funded, precedes a series of celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope. Events include a Vatican conference on Galileo to be attended by 40 international scientists and a re-examination of the Galileo trial at a Florence institute run by the Society of Jesus, some of whose members were on the tribunal that declared Galileo suspect of heresy.
In January of this year, Pope Benedict XVI canceled a visit to La Sapienza University in Rome after faculty and students accused him of defending the condemnation of Galileo. They cited a speech he made at La Sapienza in 1990, where as a cardinal he discussed how modernity had begun to doubt itself. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger cited as evidence of this self-doubt the philosopher Paul Feyerabend, who called Galileo’s prosecution for heresy “rational and just.”
The Vatican insisted the protesters had misquoted the Pope, and later research suggested the protesters used an erroneous article posted on the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia as their source. The protesters were widely condemned across Italy, with 200,000 people rallying behind the Pope on the Sunday following the canceled speech.
Vatican City, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul), Bartholomew I, met with Pope Benedict XVI this morning at the Vatican, the third such meeting for the two.
Over the last three years the two church leaders have met every year. The first time the two met was when Benedict XVI visited Istanbul for the Feast of St. Andrew in November 2006. In October of last year, Bartholomew traveled to Naples to participate in an International Meeting for Peace, where he met up with the Pope for the second time.
Both Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I have made the healing of the divisions between their respective Churches a priority. This fact was highlighted by the presence of Ioannis of Pergamo, who is the Orthodox president of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
According to news reports, Benedict and Bartholomew concluded their meeting today in the Urban VIII Chapel of the Apostolic Palace with the recitation of the Our Father and Hail Mary in Latin.
This afternoon, Patriarch Bartholomew is scheduled to preside at an academic function at Rome's Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he himself gained his doctorate, for the 90th anniversary of its foundation.
Vatican City, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - In a meeting with the bishops of Guatemala today, Pope Benedict encouraged them in their efforts to reach their people with the Gospel in the midst of trying conditions.
"Your pastors' hearts", the Pope told the bishops, "are filled with concern for the increase in violence and poverty that affects large numbers of the population and causes extensive emigration to other countries, with grave repercussions on personal and family life. This situation is an invitation for you to renew your efforts to show everyone the merciful face of the Lord, of whom the Church is called to be the image, accompanying and serving with generosity and dedication, especially those who suffer and are most in need".
The Holy Father also emphasized that the forms of popular devotion practiced by the Guatemalan people “must mature into solid Christian communities".
As various Protestant groups make inroads in the Central American country, the Pope called on the bishops to promote "firmness in the faith and participation in the Sacraments”. When the faithful are enriched and strengthened by the faith then they are protected from “the risk posed by sects or by supposedly charismatic groups, which create disorientation and can even endanger ecclesial communion," the Pontiff said.
After noting that the family is strongly supported by Guatemalan culture, Benedict XVI also pointed to the "serious pastoral and human challenges" which the institution of the family is facing. With the family under attack, "the Church remains dedicated ... to the solid formation of people who are preparing for marriage, constantly infusing faith and hope into homes and praying that, with the necessary help, they may fulfill their responsibilities," he said.
Benedict XVI also reminded bishops that their priests "need constant encouragement to continue along the path of true priestly sanctity...as well as the means necessary to increase their human and theological formation."
Finally, the Holy Father turned his attention to the impact on evangelization of the Second American Missionary Congress, held in Guatemala in 2003, and of the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, celebrated in Brazil in 2007.
He invited the bishops "to continue with renewed energy the Church's evangelizing mission in the context of modern cultural movements and globalization, giving fresh vigor to preaching and catechesis, and proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the foundation and raison d'etre for all believers".
"The evangelization of cultures", he concluded, "is a priority task to ensure that the Word of God remains accessible to everyone and, absorbed into the mind and heart, becomes the light that illuminates those cultures and the water that purifies them with the message of the Gospel which brings salvation for all humankind".
Caracas, Venezuela, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - The leadership of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has issued a statement “in response to the atmosphere of tension and uncertainty” that the country is experiencing over “the complex crisis” between the governments of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
The bishops expressed sadness at the conflict that has developed between “sister republics” and that “beyond the immediate causes” of the crisis, “the worsening of the situation could eventually harm the climate of traditional peaceful coexistence and provoke an armed conflict between sister nations.”
The bishops emphasize that “nothing positive and lasting is achieved through violence, hatred and war, neither within our country nor with neighboring and sister countries. The search for peace is a fundamental duty for all responsible governments and, at the same time, an inescapable necessity for life and for the integral development of our countries.”
“Therefore, we exhort the national government to fulfill decisively and responsibly its constitutional obligation to preserve the internal and external peace of Venezuela, as well as to protect our sovereignty with moderation and serenity in the face of the diverse and complex elements of the current crisis. On the other hand, we hope our government will be graceful in response to the accusations leveled by the Colombian government,” the bishops said.
They have also expressed their hope that “all of the mechanisms of negotiation and mediation” would be activated and “accepted by the three nations in order to quickly achieve the re-establishing of regular diplomatic channels between our governments. This will make possible direct dialogue in seeking and strengthening peace and avoiding an escalation of the conflict.”
In their message, the bishops also deplored the “recent and embarrassing occupation of the Cardinal’s residence in Caracas by groups publicly supportive of the government and which was met with a passive response by police.”
President Chavez accounted for the invasion lead by Lina Ron—an ardent supporter of his—by saying that the C.I.A. must have convinced her to conduct the raid.
The bishops concluded their statement by calling on Venezuelans to attend Mass this Sunday to “ask the Good Shepherd to drive the scourge of war away from our peoples and to clear the paths towards peace in Venezuela and between the sister countries of our beloved Latin America.”
Quito, Ecuador, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Ecuador expressed sadness over the recent events that have led to tension with Colombia and called for serenity and sincere dialogue in order to bring about reconciliation between the two nations.
In a statement the bishops noted that Ecuador and Colombia are historically united “by many bonds,” and they made known their “pain, before God and before both nations, beyond all political considerations, over the new episode of violent deaths, whose blood cries out to heaven.”
Likewise, they rejected “the violation of Ecuadorian borders by those who illegally crossed into our territory. Violence, they warned, only leads to more violence.
The bishops called for an end to aggression and for sincere dialogue, which is “the path towards reconciliation,” and they said the events that occurred on the northern border should be explained with transparency, truth and justice.”
They implored “the protection of God, that he might enlighten us in order that we may work together to overcome the difficult situations with intelligence and decisiveness.”
The bishops called on “all Ecuadorians to remain in unity and solidarity with each other, as the way to be strong and defend the national dignity, inside and outside our borders. “Let us not renounce our vocation as a people that loves peace and let us build it on the basis of justice and respect for law,” they stated.
Vatican City, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - The regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, said this week that when a person believes he is dealing with a case of diabolical possession, it should be handled by an exorcist instead of a confessor.
During a seminar the bishop said that in cases of visions, “diabolical, mystic and supposedly supernatural phenomenon,” the “confessor should be particularly prudent and experienced.” However, he recommended “the intervention of an exorcist” as these are “complex and delicate cases.”
Demonic phenomena include “possession, obsession and vexation,” and he said in cases of “mysticism, hysteria and other syndromes,” experts should be consulted.
Likewise, Bishop Girotti spoke of the crisis of the sacrament of reconciliation and noted that according to recent statistics, 30% of the faithful in Italy do not see the need for confession and 20% find talking about their sins with others difficult.
New Dehli, India, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - India will have its first saint on October 12 when Pope Benedict XVI canonizes Blessed Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception, who is believed to have interceded in the miraculous cure of a child.
“One of the child’s legs was left motionless after a bomb exploded nearby and Alfonsa cured him. The exam by doctors confirmed it,” said Father Antony of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He said the local church is elated, noting that she would be the first saint of India.
Ana Muttathupadam was born on August 19, 1910 in Kundamaloor, India. Her mother died when she was only three months old, and she was raised by a Catholic family of the Syro-Malabar rite.
At the age of 18 she joined the Poor Clares and was given the name Alfonsa of the Immaculate. Her religious life was marked by grave illnesses that kept her from carrying out her apostolic work. She offered all of her suffering for the conversion of sinners.
During the last year of her life, she fell ill with cancer and suffered great pain. She died on July 28, 1946 at the age of 36. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and will be canonized on October 12, 2008. Sister Alfonsa’s motto was “Be consumed as a fire to illuminate others.” Her profound spiritual life even moved the hearts of non- believers.
Sister Alfonsa did not do extraordinary things, but her message is easily understood in India, a country filled with suffering. Gandhi proclaimed the value of suffering but Sister Alfonsa imbued it with the supernatural light of the Gospel.
As the first saint of India, she is beloved by Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, who often visit her tomb to pray for her intercession.
Caracas, Venezuela, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Sabino, has called on President Hugo Chavez and other Venezuelan officials not “to interfere in the diplomatic conflict between Ecuador and Colombia,” as “it is a problem that they must resolve, and we should not get involved in the matter.”
In speaking to the press, the cardinal pointed out that “there is a very serious problem between Colombia and Ecuador” and “only between those two countries, and I am sure that they will find solutions amidst the difficulties that have arisen from the events.”
“Let us have great serenity, an attitude of great moderation because many things are in jeopardy,” Cardinal Urosa said, emphasizing the negative effects that the closing of the border and the mobilization of troops have on nearby towns, generating anxiety “in the hearts of the soldiers and their families.”
He encouraged “the parties involved to meet and hold talks with the help of intermediaries in order to avoid the outbreak of armed conflict,” and he stressed that “the Venezuelan people are not warmongers and we should keep to that position. My call is to calm, to resolve differences peacefully, through dialogue and coming together so that there is no anxiety in the Venezuelan people.”
Likewise, Cardinal Urosa expressed his hope the situation would only be a “passing storm” and sent his blessing to “authorities, to all members of the military forces who are in a very difficult situation and above all to each Venezuelan so that we may all be builders of peace.”
Thiruvananthapuram, India, Mar 6, 2008 (CNA) - A Catholic archbishop in the southern India state of Kerala distributed free milkshakes on Saturday to protest the rampant spread of alcoholism in the region, UCA News reports.
Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam of the Archdiocese of Trivandrum appealed to people of all religions to stay away from alcohol. His appeal was part of a new two-month-long campaign by the Kerala Anti-Liquor Committee, an inter-religious group to which the archbishop belongs.
The archbishop recently inaugurated a milkshake vending machine in the Kerala capital of Thiruvananthapuram. About 100 people attended, drinking the milkshakes in a symbolic gesture against alcoholism.
Archbishop Pakiam has accused the Kerala government of promoting liquor to increase tax revenue. The clergyman met with state officials to warn them about the state’s problem of alcoholism. “They promised many things, but never kept their word. Instead, they have promoted liquor by opening more shops," Archbishop Pakiam said.
Kerala has India’s highest liquor consumption rate. On average, its 31.8 million people each consume eight liters of liquor per year. Christians, who are 19 percent of the state’s population, are among the region’s top liquor traders.
The archbishop said that the Church has demanded prohibition in the state. "The money government earns from liquor sales is peanuts compared to what it spends on the health sector and other areas. Alcoholism is hampering overall growth and reversing development," he asserted. Archbishop Pakiam said that poor people suffered the most from alcoholism.
The head of a leading mosque in the state capital, P.K. Hamsamoulavi Farooqi, supported Archbishop Pakiam and criticized the government’s policies.
The archdiocese will concentrate its campaign in its costal parishes, where alcoholism is a significant challenge.